Iranian intelligence services attempted to hire a Canadian Hells Angels member to assassinate dissidents in the U.S., American officials allege.
Naji Sharifi Zindashti, 49, Damion Ryan, 43, and Adam Pearson, 29, have all been charged with conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
In newly unsealed court documents, police alleged that Zindashti, who resides in Iran, is a drug dealer who “targets Iranian dissidents and opposition activists for kidnapping and assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime.” In a separate action on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against Zindashti and several of his associates.
The charges and designations come as tensions between Iran and the United States are ramping up. Three American soldiers were killed in Jordan on Sunday by an Iranian-backed militia, U.S. officials say.
According to court documents, the plot was hatched in late 2020, when Zindashti, reached out to Ryan, a full-patched member of the Hells Angels, about a “job” he wanted done in Maryland. On the now defunct encrypted chat app SkyECC, the two discussed “equipment” and the details of the “job.”
Ryan then reached out to Pearson, who was a Canadian illegally living in Minnesota to commit the plan. Ryan, according to the documents, said he would need several people to work on it and it “needed to be overkill.”
"Pearson then told Ryan that he would encourage his recruits to 'shoot [the victim] in the head a lot [to] make an example,' and offered that, if the job was time-sensitive, he could do it himself,” reads the court documents. “In a subsequent message, Pearson told Ryan that he would 'make sure I hit this guy in the heat with at least half the clip' and that he would tell his contacts that 'we gotta erase his head from his torso.'"
In late January, Ryan told Zindashti he “had a four-man team ready” and quoted $350,000 as a price for the job. Zindashti agreed on the price and set up the Hells Angels with an associate to facilitate payment. The associate also provided Ryan with the name and addresses of a man and woman. The court documents do not state who the intended victims are and why they were targeted.
The documents do not say how the alleged plot was thwarted but both Ryan and Pearson are currently imprisoned in Canada for separate offenses, Ryan on firearms charges and Pearson on murder charges stemming from a 2019 killing in Alberta. Pearson was extradited to Canada in 2022 and is still awaiting trial.
U.S. government officials alleged that Zindashti’s network is intertwined with Iran's efforts to target and silence “dissidents, former insiders, and other perceived opponents” in exchange for the drug dealer’s criminal empire being protected by the Iranian regime. They allege that Zindashti has aided the country in several other killings including kidnapping an activist who was returned to the country, tortured, and eventually executed.